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10

Nobody expects Tony to treat Avenging like a full-time job. Hell, Tony didn’t even realize it could be a full-time job until he’d started renovating the new compound upstate and realized that some of them would be staying there effectively 24/7.

For Avengers Mark I, it was clear to all of them from the get-go that it wouldn’t be a permanent gig. Fury brought them together just to take down Loki, and later it was only because of Thor that they had a reunion tour to find the scepter. In and out, done and settled, then everyone would presumably be scattered to the winds as before. It even almost kinda happened that way, except some of them stuck around for the new line-up.

Steve and Natasha have a shared leadership kink, apparently, and are committed to working with Fury and Maria’s fledgling new form of SHIELD. Wanda and Vision? Have nowhere else to go. That leaves Tony, Rhodey and to a lesser extent Sam as the ones who clock in and out as the missions take ‘em – which is fine, because Steve would never ask them to drop their other responsibilities entirely, and far better for the Avengers’ home team to have extra hands every other day instead of not at all.

Basically, it’s interesting how Avenging – as an occupation – is changing.

Personally, Tony thinks it’s absolutely necessary for the long-term. Who knows when Thor’s coming back or what news he’d bring with him, and the team needs to be primed and ready for when that happens. The threats are changing, too, what with the world responding to the influx of weird of the past couple of years.

So, yeah. Avengers Mark II – a work in progress, and definitely necessary.

On a micro level, it’s good for Steve, too. Heaven knows the guy needs some kind of stability in his life, even if in this case stability means a state-of-the-art superheroing facility and a regular crew to spy on and/or beat up bad guys with. Over the weeks after the new line-up’s put together, Tony watches with no small amount of satisfaction as Steve settles down, makes himself comfortable, and takes over the damned place.

(The damned place that Tony built, thank you very much.)

So every time Tony goes to Avengers HQ, there’s something new about Steve to discover. It ranges from new equipment Steve’s picked out for the place, to some new trick with the shield to show-off, to some exciting new discovery of the 21st century that Steve just has to talk his ear off about.

All this accounts for the way Tony’s heartbeat accelerates every single time he gets back to the place. Be it by car, helicopter, or the suit – and never mind that it’s been weeks since he and Steve started being a thing – Tony is not too cool to skip and bound up the last couple of steps up to the living area.

Tonight, when Tony keys the door open, he’s greeted by the tableau of almost the entire team, plus Maria, gathered in the common area. Tony walks in slowly, taking in the sights: Steve, Natasha, Wanda and Maria are filling out the chairs in front of the TV playing a nature documentary, while Sam and Vision are sitting at the separate island and peering together at a phone.

It’s peaceful. Even with Wanda and Natasha arguing the ethics about whatever’s going on in the documentary and Steve threatening to change the channel if they don’t stop, it’s peaceful.

Tony steps inside and nods at the screen. “Educational.”

“The narration helps with writing mission reports,” Natasha says. “Wanda’s still getting the hang of that.”

Wanda makes a disgusted sound. “Please do not blame me for the choice of supposed entertainment.”

“It does help, though,” Maria says. “At least in getting to the right mindset.”

Steve looks up at Tony as he approaches. “Wanda’s been lagging on mission reports, she finds them difficult—”

“A waste of time,” Wanda says. “Not difficult.”

“Reports are the worst, though.” Tony exchanges a sympathetic look with Wanda as he moves past her. “Hey, an empty seat.”

Steve makes a surprised noise when Tony sits on him, but he gets with the program quickly enough, shifting to accommodate Tony settling his back against Steve’s chest. It’s already the best spot in the building, really, but then Steve goes and makes it better by draping an arm around Tony’s waist.

“Long day?” Steve asks quietly, mouth close to Tony’s ear.

“Nah, I’m good,” Tony says. “You?”

“I’m good, too.” Tony can’t see Steve’s face properly, but he can hear the smile in his voice. “Nice to have you back.”

“We are all doing the same mission,” Wanda’s saying. “How many mission reports are necessary? Yes, yes, I understand that it’s important to have different points of view, but can there not be any simpler, faster way of doing it?”

“Audio reports,” Tony says, closing his eyes.

“You can’t skim audio reports,” Maria says.

“That’s what audio-to-text is for,” Tony says.

“That’s not how we do things,” Maria replies.

“You’re not Wanda’s boss,” Tony points out. “Steve is.”

Natasha hums in agreement. “Not to mention that when you said ‘we’, you’re meaning SHIELD, but we’re not SHIELD. Sorry, Maria.”

“Turncoat,” Maria says.

“Do you want to try audio reports, Wanda?” Steve’s chest rumbles against Tony’s back when he speaks. “We can test it, if you’re interested.”

Tony rests his head on Steve’s shoulder and drifts, only half-listening to the ensuing discussion.

He can reasonably guess what’s going on, anyway. Wanda’s grumbling, Natasha’s tossing ideas, Steve’s trying to negotiate. Somewhere in the background Sam’s voice cuts through, loud and exasperated at something he and Vision are doing. Steve’s hand is petting Tony’s stomach a little – he might not even realize he’s doing it.

Avengers Mark II. Tony smiles.

 

 


 

 

 

9

One would think that with Pepper holding the reins of Stark Industries, Tony would be going to fewer fancy dinners, but nope. Tonight Tony’s all dolled up and schmoozing like the good ‘ol days, except this time he’s doing it to save the world. No, really.

It’s a humanitarian awards gala, and Fury’s idea for them to attend. Officially they’re here to support the wondrous achievements being celebrated. Unofficially, they’re part of an Avengers PR campaign. In actuality, they’re here on a soft mission, where Tony, Steve, Fury and Natasha are putting their ears to floor in hoity-toity recon.

They’ve been circling the rooms since they got here, each of them working their own angles: Natasha’s being sly, Steve’s being disarmingly charming, and Tony’s been shaking a whole bunch of old contacts to see what falls out. Tony hasn’t checked in with the others yet, but he’s had a whiff of two secret arms deals and a potential situation in Natasha’s old stomping ground that she should probably look into soon.

All in all, Tony figures that he’s been pretty productive. Once he’s finished up with his latest mark he rewards himself by grabbing a flute from the nearest waiter, and then turning slowly enough to spot Steve in his service uniform, busy shaking hands and nodding solemnly at whoever it is he’s talking to.

“Tony Stark,” says a familiar voice.

Tony turns, smile immediately at the ready. “Ms. Everhart, long time no see.”

“Indeed it is,” Christine says. “Not since your sojourn in Sokovia. Sojourn with Sokovia?”

“Funny,” Tony says. “Haven’t heard that one before.”

Christine leans back a little, squinting. “I’m sorry, it’s still disorienting to see you without the attachment.”

Tony’s smile grows wider. “What can I say, Miss Potts would rather run a Fortune 500 company than babysit me. You can guess which one’s easier, too.”

“Can I quote you on that? Because—” Christine stops, startled.

Tony doesn’t jump at the touch on his waist. He knows it’s coming because he can smell Steve’s cologne, just as he could hear the evenly-spaced footsteps heading in his direction. Hence, where Christine needs to take a second to compose herself, Tony gets to take a languid sip from his flute and then turn to Steve and say, “’Sup?”

Steve’s face is placid, his smile picturesque. His appearance is of a man perfectly unruffled, as long as one doesn’t look at where his hand grips Tony’s waist.

“Just thought I’d say hi,” Steve says. “Hello.”

Tony gestures between them. “Everhart, Rogers – Rogers, Everhart. You’ve seen her on World News, right? She did that piece on Sokovia.”

“Journalism and transparency, just a few of my favorite things.” Steve offers a hand, and Christine shakes it.

“I’m sorry for not catching you earlier, Captain,” Christine says. “Can’t be everywhere at once.”

“Wanda Maximoff in particular enjoyed your piece,” Steve says. “She thought it was very interesting how you—”

“Oh look, it’s that guy!” Tony exclaims. “That guy you were telling me about. Steve, come on, introduce me.”

Steve starts. “What?”

“That guy,” Christine says, her voice cloyingly sweet. “Or maybe it’s a tall blonde that caught his eye. I know all about Tony’s thing for tall blondes.”

Steve puts on a disproving face. “Tall blondes, Stark? And here I thought you were more than just a cliché.”

Tony puts a hand on his heart. “I live to disappoint. Now take me – to that – guy.”

“Over there.” Steve’s hand moves up to Tony’s back, steering him way. “Nice to meet you, Miss Everhart.”

As they make their way across the room, Tony reflects on the fact that having to steer Steve away from Christine’s knife-sharp scrutiny should feel weirder than it is.

Dating Steve? Can be really fucking weird. Sure, a great deal of Tony’s life has been weird lately, so what’s a little bit more weird on top, right? But the thing is, only some parts of dating Steve are weird. Like the part where Steve still can’t say a decent word about Stark Tower, or where Steve can be so self-righteous that Tony’s teeth hurt, but Tony wants him anyway. Or the part where Steve’s an actual mythologized figure of Stark family history (Tony’s taken the time to tell a portrait of Howard: “I’m banging your science project, isn’t that a hoot?”) which isn’t exactly a situation that Cosmo would have dating advice for.

Then there are parts that are not weird. Or, at least, less weird than they should be, the main one being the fact that they’re high-profile co-workers. Being an Avenger is hardly a typical job, but it is a job, and everyone who’s anyone knows the risks about dating someone you’re working with, let alone when that working relationship is as visible as theirs. Yet this is a part of their relationship that isn’t weird because, hey, Tony has experience with that sort of thing.

Tony would never tell Steve to his face that dating Pepper prepped him for this but… dating Pepper prepped him for this. In many ways, dating Pepper was trickier, because of the thing where he was her boss, which was wrapped up in the thing where she was kinda his caretaker, which was wrapped up in the thing where he pissed off a lot of people by giving her Stark Industries and Pepper initially had to deal with that whole thing on her own because Tony was dying, etc.

So dating a fellow Avenger? Actually kinda easy.

Dealing with said Avenger in a public setting while they’re on a soft mission, under threat of their relationship being prodded and poked at? Not so easy, but familiar enough that Tony knows how to deal with it.

Tony checks to make sure they’re a decent distance from Christine and anyone else who might be listening, and then says, “Geez, Steve, you really need how to learn to play nice.”

“Didn’t realize we were playing.”

Tony looks up at Steve, who is still making that face like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. “I’m sorry, am I talking to Thor? Would you like to go around the room hitting people with a hammer?”

“I sort of do that with my shield.” Steve actually looks a little remorseful. “I do need to work on that.”

“I think the strangest part of this whole thing is that I’m only this much—” Tony holds up a hand, showing Steve a narrow space between his thumb and forefinger, “—turned on by what you just did.”

“That is strange,” Steve says. “Considering your exhibitionist streak.”

“That’s because you ruined the moment.” When Steve starts to protest, Tony adds, “You couldn’t even let me savor what would’ve been a wonderful few seconds of Christine maybe, kinda, sorta figuring out about us – or at least, suspecting it – because of course you had to set your sights—”

“Wanda cried, Tony,” Steve says. “When she watched Everhart’s piece.”

“Yes, and that’s awful, but you accomplish nothing by bulldozing over her. Except maybe getting to feel good about yourself, but that doesn’t help Wanda, now does it?”

“It would at least make Everhart think twice about running something like that again.”

“You’re not that scary, Steve. I mean, you can be, but right now? Looking like this? Nope.” At the mention of Steve’s appearance, Tony’s eye is drawn to their reflection in the mirror above the nearby bar. There’s Steve, all broad and dashing and aggressively handsome like he’s just walked out of a recruitment poster, and looking all the better with Tony tucked beside him in best show-pony mode. Tony nods, satisfied. “God, we’re a good-looking pair.”

“If you say so,” Steve says, amused.

“I wonder if she even noticed that my tie matches your jacket.”

“I guess we’ll find out if she writes about it.”

“She won’t,” Tony says. “Not until it’s enough of a story.”

“It’s not enough of a story that Captain America’s taking advantage of a fella half his age?”

It takes Tony a second because Steve has the most impressive, straight-faced delivery, which has the double whammy of coming from a face made for afterschool special messages. But a second is enough, and then Tony’s wheezing, laugh-gasping and grabbing Steve’s arm for support to stop himself from falling over. Steve, for his part, displays his skills as a master strategist by taking Tony’s flute before he can spill his champagne.

“Motherfuck, Steve,” Tony says, once he can breathe again.

“No, thank you,” Steve says politely.

“That is…” Tony pokes at the brick wall that is Steve’s chest. “You have the skill to render me speechless. You deserve a medal. Or something else appropriately celebratory, like me not wearing lifts when we go out together.”

“Lifts? What are – oh is that what those kinds of shoes are called? Huh.”

“Yeah.”

Steve nods. “I think that’d be nice.”

“Nice,” Tony echoes. He squints up at Steve, whom it looks like gears are grinding behind his bright baby blues. “You… like it. You like the idea.”

“That’s why I said it’d be nice,” Steve points out.

“But a certain specific kind of nice. Not ‘nice’, like, coming here and hobknobbing for intel is nice, but ‘nice’ like you’re already thinking about how I lose my mind whenever you’re inside me, kind of nice.”

Steve opens his mouth, wets his lips, and then says in very measured voice, “You’re going to stop right now, because Fury’s over there giving us the look.”

“Which look? The we-should-flirt-on-our-own-time look?”

“The very one.”

“Figures.” Tony snaps the panels of his jacket down in readiness, and takes his glass back from Steve. “Back to work, then. Let’s go terrify some people.”

“Didn’t you just say that I’m not scary?” Steve says.

Tony waves a finger in Steve’s face. “Stop. Off you go. Meet me behind the bleachers after class.” He slides away from Steve and dutifully resumes schmoozing, but it takes a great deal of effort to stop grinning like a moron for the rest of the night.

 

 


 

 

 

8

“Do you want me to buy the building?” Tony asks.

Steve should be used to him by now; there’s really no cause for the way he frowns and says, “What?”

“I’m just saying. You’ve been going on and on for about—” Tony glances at his watch, “—eight minutes about this fantastic, wonderful, heartbreaking infrastructure’s falling to shit and shouldn’t someone do something about it? Your words. Some of them, anyway.”

“Doesn’t mean I want the building.” Steve turns back, scowling at the aforementioned shitty infrastructure across the street, though by Tony’s reckoning it looks remarkably unshitty under the dramatic light of sunset. “I was just wish it were be managed better by the people who already own it.”

“What’s the point of dating a ridiculously loaded person if you’re not going to take advantage of it?”

“I already do. Have you seen the place I work at?”

“Indeed I have,” Tony says with a grin. He turns, eye caught by a flash of color at a street corner. “Hey, ice-cream.”

Steve inclines his head. “You want?”

“Yeah. Sprinkles and everything. Pick a flavor for me, but nothing kooky.” Tony walks slowly, hanging back just enough that he can watch Steve run ahead. As far as Tony’s concerned, everyone should hang back to watch Steve run ahead at least once in their lives. It’s formative experience.

At the stall, Steve turns back to look at Tony and smiles. Tony smiles back.

They’re still trying out this date night thing. Tony prefers to stick indoors or on the roofs of buildings, but Steve likes to do city walks and bitch about buildings he disapproves of, so they’ve decided to switch between the two as they go along. Regardless, they’ve only done this a handful of times, and definitely not enough to resemble a routine.

“So,” Tony says, once he’s caught up with Steve, “what are you getting me?”

“I’m not telling.” Steve puts the cup in Tony’s open hand. “No food allergies, right?”

“None I’ve noticed yet. Or maybe I’ve just forgotten, I should probably ask FRIDAY.” Tony grabs at the cup when Steve starts to take it away. “Whoa whoa whoa, no allergies, I am absolutely positive.”

“All right.” Steve smiles at the server as he pays. “Thank you.”

Tony takes half second to check if the server recognizes them (she does) and if she cares (she does a little, but not enough to anything about it) and says, “Extra sprinkles for whoever of us you like better.”

The server – Alicia, on her nametag – holds Tony’s eye and moves her little scoop over Steve’s cup.

“Tony,” Steve says with a laugh.

“She has excellent taste,” Tony says. “By the way, Alicia, what do you think about that building over there, my friend Steve has—”

“Thank you again,” Steve says, steering Tony away from her stall. “Have a nice night!”

Tony lets Steve push him along just far enough that they’re out of earshot, and then wiggles away. “God, Steve, it was just a man-of-the-street survey. Woman-of-the-street. You know what I mean.”

Steve laughs, his whole face alight and unguarded, his whole body loose and easy. The sight is still new to Tony, so it’s understandable that his breath catches, and he gives in to the urge to drag a hand down Steve’s arm, lingering at the elbow before pulling away.

“Okay,” Tony says, once he’s taken a spoonful of dessert and decided that it’s not bad, “so when was your first ice-cream out of the ice? Wait, I missed something, there’s a joke in there—”

“Not long after Loki,” Steve says. “I ate a lot of things before I came back to SHIELD.”

“Ah Captain Godzilla, stomping his way through the culinary streets of the US of A. How’s it fare compared to before?”

“Even if I could answer that, I’d probably be wrong. I tried it once, before the serum, but the asthma and lactose intolerance made it, uh, memorable for the wrong reasons. I must’ve had some after that, but hell if I can recall exactly when.”

“Understandable, seeing as that you were kinda busy at the time.”

They turn the corner of the block, still walking, still eating. Tony has no idea exactly where they’re heading, but honestly? He doesn’t care enough to ask. He’s far more interested in telling Steve exactly what he thinks of his choice of pistachio and raspberry ice-cream, like what the heck, and letting his arm brush Steve’s every other step of their walk.

“Hey, Tony,” Steve asks, voice pitched a little lower. “What do you think people see when they look at us?”

Tony peers over the rims of his glasses, following Steve’s line of sight to the pedestrians milling around. No one’s gawking or taking pictures, but there’s that general sense of awareness permeating off of them. Same old.

“Regular people?” Tony makes a thoughtful sound. “I imagine it’s either, ‘Dear God, I hope they’re not here on business’, or ‘Damn, what would it be like to be the meat in that sandwich?”

Steve slants a look at Tony. “No third option?”

“Sure, I can think of something for kids, give me a moment.”

“No,” Steve says slowly, stifling another laugh. “Would anyone be wondering if we’re here together because we’re… together?”

“Nah, that’d be stupid.” Tony takes another scoopful of ice-cream and ignores the brain-freeze. “Next thing you’ll be asking if people think that the moon landings were faked.”

“What is…?” Steve shakes his head. “I know that reference and you’ve still lost me.”

“What’re you really thinking about, Cap? Are you like, angling for me to lay one on you in public?”

“Not at all,” Steve says, his voice dropping to that carefully modulated, strategic-thinking tone he uses whenever anyone questions any of his decisions. “I was just thinking about Everhart—”

“Talk about boner-kill.”

“—and you were right, it’s been what, two weeks? And she hasn’t written anything. It had me thinking… It’s not as though we’ve been subtle about each other in general.”

“This is subtle, actually. For me. Extremely subtle. But that’s what it is to be an open secret. We do what we do, and people who know us know about it, but other than that it’s not a story worth telling.”

Steve’s face scrunches up. “I still don’t understand that.”

“I know, it’s weird. You really can’t predict how these things go.” Tony shrugs. “Not that either one of us cares what people think of us.”

“I do appreciate that that’s something we have in common,” Steve says sagely.

Although,” Tony says, warming up to the topic. “If it were to become a story worth breaking, it’d be because of you. I mean, I’m fucking Tony Stark, I do ridiculous shit all the time. The past couple of years? Been non-stop doing crazy shit where everyone can see, so people have a reasonably good idea of what I’m capable of.”

“You mean like, self-christening yourself a superhero?”

“Yes, that!” Tony exclaims. “Or turning Stark Industries on its head. Or having an unfortunate hand in the creation of apocalypse-obsessed robots.”

“The general public doesn’t know about that last part.”

“Oh, right. But anyway, the point is, dating you? Totally something that Tony StarkTM would do. So, not much of a story there. But if the focus is on you, there’d be something worth telling. Of course, that’s assuming they don’t get tongue-tied on the topic, since you’re the closest our great nation has to a living god—”

“Please don’t.”

“—and you’re so noble and mysterious and plucked right out from history—”

“Lots of people don’t care about that, present company included.”

“—and who really wants to question Captain America when he sets his mind on doing something?”

“Everyone,” Steve says amiably. “You. Fury, Natasha, Maria—”

“I mean, people who aren’t part of the gang.”

“You do know what happened when I testified to Congress after taking down SHIELD, right?”

“I mean, regular people!” Tony points at a random child on the street. “Hey!”

The kid jumps. “Yeah?”

“If Captain America wanted to lick your elbow, would let him?” Tony asks.

“What?” the kid asks, while his friend chimes in, “Why does Captain America need to lick anyone’s elbow?”

“Because he wants to,” Tony says. “Would you let him?”

There are four children clustered around the pavement, the rest of them looking curiously at their friend who is currently the focus of Tony’s attention. Steve makes a small sound, not quite a sigh, but doesn’t say anything else.

“I think…” The child narrow his eyes thoughtfully. “I think that Captain America’s a stranger, so… no?”

“Good answer,” Steve says. “You should be wary of strangers.”

“Captain America isn’t a stranger,” Tony says, bouncing on his heels irritably. “He’s Captain America, who doesn’t know Captain America? Who are your parents?”

“You’re a stranger, too,” the child’s friend points out.

“So he is,” Steve says. “Tony?”

“Yeah, whatever. I don’t remember the point I was trying to make anyway.” Tony wanders away from the unhelpful children, Steve close beside him. A fair distance away, Tony hands over his empty ice-cream cup, which Steve crumples with his own and throws with always-impressive accuracy into the nearest bin.

“This was nice.” Steve’s steps are languid, and he hasn’t stopped smiling. “Thanks for making time for me.”

“Don’t say it like that. It sounds as if I’m doing you a favor, which I’m not.” Tony sighs. “Let’s go home, I want to make out.”

Steve nods. “Sounds good.”

 

 


 

 

 

7

Tony likes watching Steve, and indulges in it a lot. This has always been true, but nowadays Tony gets to do it openly (well, even more openly) and Steve, when he notices, gets to parse the attention as flattering instead of irritating.

It’s late in the evening, and Tony is chilling some yards away behind the window while Steve, Vision and Natasha talk on the balcony. Vision is hovering in the air, gesturing at something in the distance – probably waxing poetic about the state of the universe, some shit like that. Natasha is nodding along.

As for Steve, he’s standing with one arm braced on the railing, slouched a little but his body language open. He’s handsome, but that’s a-given. What’s really keeping Tony’s attention is Steve’s face – interested, supportive, a little amused. His smile is small but genuine, and for what feels like the millionth time Tony feels the itch to poke and prod at it, to find out what’s going on behind that smile because if there’s anything Tony’s learned, is that there’s a hell of a lot going on with Steve that he doesn’t let on.

At one point while Vision is still speaking, Steve and Natasha exchange a quick look, a wordless conversation passing between them. Tony finds himself thinking that he and Steve don’t do that a lot, but that’s on Tony; any conversation in Tony’s world is worth having out loud, most of the time.

Hot on the heels on that thought is how before Tony first dived head-first into the wacky world of dating Steve Rogers, he’d been 100% okay with other people being tighter with Steve than he was. Natasha, Sam, and even Thor had a rapport with Steve that Tony couldn’t break into, but he hadn’t minded.

It was enough that he and Steve worked decently in the field, plus they had the rest of the team to buffer the prickliness that existed between them (just the two of them, for whatever reason) from that very first day in Germany. Tony and Steve only had to get along just enough, and no more.

Sure, Tony had also been attracted to Steve from the get-go, and maybe wanted to find out who’d been buying his clothes so to give them a well-deserved to tip, but actually befriending the guy in a meaningful way seemed too much effort. By the time Ultron happened, they’d found a system that worked (except when it sometimes didn’t, but they always bounced back) and that was fine.

Then Tony had to be stupid and Steve had to be stupid with him, so now they’re a thing, which is the story of Tony’s life, isn’t it? The side effect of which is, of course, that Tony had to actually get to know the guy.

It was a little awkward at first, once the first few orgasms were gotten out of the way, but Tony eats awkward for breakfast. They established a few things right off the bat, one of them being that Tony isn’t like Sam or Natasha, and Steve shouldn’t expect him to be.

“It’s the whole shared experiences thing,” Tony said at time. He’d gestured at himself and added, “Silver spoon, asshole by pedigree. Plus, I do most of what I do in front of screen or inside of a tin can. You guys are… well.”

Steve’s response was: “You say that as though soldiers don’t have civilian sweethearts all the time.”

Tony gasped and clutched his chest. “Civilian? How dare you.”

“There you go.” And then Steve pointed out that he isn’t like Bruce, so it goes both ways, doesn’t it?

That was ground zero, null point, starting the climb from sea level. It’s been weeks since then; a whole stretch of figuring out small-talk and not-so-small-talk and surreptitious blowjobs where Maria can’t catch them.

Tony’s learned a great many things about Steve during this time. He wouldn’t call himself an expert, but he’s doing okay. Actually, now that he’s taking a moment to think about it, he’s doing really fucking awesome. His knows this, because he can tell from looking that Steve is tired but trying not to show it, though it’s making it difficult for him to follow whatever Vision is saying. There’s a pinch around his eyes that belies Steve’s frustration – at himself, not at Vision – but he’s making mental notes he’ll follow up on later.

Tony figures that he’s earned this knowledge, just as he’s earned the ability to not be surprised when Steve finally notices his presence, looks at him, and smiles.

There’s a half-second in there where Tony thinks: how the fuck did this happen? Then the moment passes because Vision seems to be winding down, and Steve unfolds himself subtle in readiness to excuse himself.

Tony moves away from the window, slipping back into the sitting area, then further back to the pantry to rummage around the shelves. The area’s empty and still, though a newspaper is laid open on the island half-read, a tall mug set at the corner of a page. It’s probably Wanda’s.

Steve’s footsteps are deceptively quiet. Tony can barely hear them under the sound of tap running, filling his mug with water.

“Is Vision threatening to go solo or what?” Tony asks.

“He has some thoughts about the – the scepter stone.” Steve leans against the countertop, thumbs tucked into the loops of his jeans. “Most of it went over my head, to tell you the truth. You’d think I’d be used to that by now.”

“What’s that?”

“Seeing as how I’ve been hanging around you a lot.”

Tony squints up at Steve and finishes up his drink. “Yeah, you’d think so.”

“You’re going somewhere.” Steve reaches out, tugging the hem of Tony’s dress shirt before settling his hand on Tony’s hip. Tony’s thoughts veer back in time a couple of weeks, to when Steve was still getting used to casual touch outside the bedroom. He tended to jump whenever Tony reached for him – it wasn’t even anything lewd, usually just a pat here or a poke there – and now here Steve is, going for Tony’s love handles whenever he’s within range.

“There’s a thing, with a guy.” Tony moves away from the counter and into the touch, so to hook his chin on the world’s finest chinrest, i.e. Steve’s shoulder. “Gotta head out, might take a couple of days.”

Steve nods, and rubs a hand down Tony’s back. “What kind of suit will you be using?”

“Three-piece, max. Probably? I’ll let you know.”

“Yes, I’d say you should.”

“I got tickets, by the way.” Tony blindly plucks his phone from his back pocket and waves it in the air. “I asked Sam, and he said it’s a thing you like, so I got them. Next week.”

Steve takes Tony’s wrist, angling it so he can read the phone’s screen. “You don’t care for baseball.”

“But I do get the tingles whenever you’re excited about anything. I feed on it. We’re going, if you want to go.”

“Okay, we can do that.”

It is extremely comfortable being here, resting in the lee of Steve’s body. Tony thinks he could just chill like this, as weird as it sounds in theory to just… stand upright in a kitchen. It’s a Steve thing. Tony almost laughs – his brain goes really fucking weird sometimes, what the fuck.

“Okay,” Tony says. “I’ve gotta go, Pepper’s been – yeah, okay she’s calling again. I’ll buzz you when I get there.”

“Hold on,” Steve says. “You forgot your luck.”

Tony looks up. “Well whaddya know. Guess I did.”

Steve kisses him slowly, carefully, like a man who’s spent a great deal of effort honing his skills, and knows when to put them to good use. Tony is a grateful beneficiary, and sighs his appreciation against Steve’s lips. Good stuff, all of it.

“Don’t send me any more shirtless pics,” Tony says, drawing back. “Filters or no filters.”

“I thought you liked those,” Steve asks.

“I do, but then, it’s—” Tony makes a vague shape in the air, even as he’s walking backwards towards the door, “—you know. Distracting.”

Steve just smiles. “That’s the point.”

“Okay, one shirtless pic,” Tony says, pushing the door open with his hip. “But send it at night. Not while I’m in a meeting.”

“I’ll try my best,” Steve says with a nod.

 

 


 

 

 

6

Avengers HQ has a pretty damn cool conference room that has all the bells and whistles an Avenger could ask for, but it’s gotten surprisingly little use. Most team discussions end up happening in the living area, the kitchen, or down on the training floor, which Tony figures says something about the nature of the team itself.

They do use the conference room sometimes, though. Today is one such occasion, which is doubly special because the whole roster is present. Steve’s sitting at the head, naturally, while most of the chairs around the rectangular table are filled up. They’ve been at it for a while now, and Tony’s spent the past ten minutes wondering if he should ask FRIDAY to arrange for refreshments to be sent up.

“I believe you,” Steve is saying, “but we still need to consider what the breach of security means for all of us.”

“I know,” Sam says, slinking further into his seat. “Does it help that I got a not-so-bad vibe off of him?”

“It does,” Steve says, “but what do we actually know about him?”

“His name’s Scott Lang,” Maria says, just as the man’s face appears in the hologram projection on the clear glass at the head of the table. “Has a record, but it’s small-scale, not worth looking at. More interesting is this name on his list of known associates – Dr. Hank Pym. Used to be SHIELD, but that was before my time.”

Steve leans back, meeting Tony’s eye where he’s slouched in a chair on the far end. “Tony?”

“Yeah,” Tony says. “Rings a bell. Probably mad at me.”

Rhodey shoots Tony a look. “You don’t sound too worried about that.”

“This place is a little more secure than my Malibu house,” Tony says. “If anyone tries to blow it up.”

Steve frowns up at the holo-projection, which is now flipping through SHIELD’s old files on Pym, interspersed with news feeds suspected to relate to Lang’s exploits. Tony kinda digs the giant ant.

“How many secret projects did you guys have?” Steve asks at last.

“A lot,” Maria replies. “We liked collecting them.”

Steve sighs. “If this is right, Lang and Pym may have hurt a Hydra cell we’d missed, so I’m not that concerned about them trying to blow this place up. The soft assets, though – those could be at risk.”

“Well,” Natasha says, “our servers are definitely secure, seeing as your sex tape hasn’t leaked.”

Tony looks at Steve sharply. “You told her about the sex tape?”

“Wait,” Natasha says, “you guys actually have a sex tape?”

“No,” Tony says smoothly, turning away from Steve’s epic poker face back to Natasha. “I said ‘the’ sex tape, not ‘our’ sex tape, because I was referring to a generic sex tape that does not feature us. Because, obviously, Steve isn’t the sort of person who’d be into that sort of thing.”

“Not that there’s anything wrong with sex tapes in general,” Steve says. “If everyone involved is fully informed and consenting.”

Rhodey raises a hand. “I motion to stop talking about sex tapes.”

“No, this is interesting,” Vision says. “I like how there’s multiple conversations going on at the same time.”

“Or,” Maria says, “we could talk about Scott Lang and his ability to steal something from what should be one of the best-guarded warehouse on the eastern seaboard.”

“Yeah,” Tony says with a sighs, “I didn’t account for incredible shrinking men – or women – in our security protocols. I’ll get on it.”

“It’s not on Tony, nor on Sam,” Steve says.

“It does point out flaws we haven’t accounted for,” Natasha says. “And he’s hardly the only person who’s been poking around. Lang has gotten closer than most, and what if he decides to work for our favorite Secretary of State?”

“Ross?” Sam huffs. “You’d think he’d have figured out that Bruce’s ghosting all of us, not just him.”

“Since it’s been brought up,” Steve says, “I’d just like to say for the record that I’m not all that convinced that Ross is just after the Hulk. That man views Bruce as a threat because of what he represents – incredible power within someone beyond his or military control. Or perhaps Bruce’s mere existence offends him, because he feels Bruce is undeserving of that power. But from where I’m sitting, almost everyone in this room fulfils the same criteria. Yet he doesn’t come after us, just as he didn’t come after Bruce when he was with us, because we worked as a team.”

“Herd safety,” Vision says.

Steve pauses. “Sure, that’s a way to put it. What I’m trying to say is, our strength isn’t merely in numbers. It’s also in variation and adaptability.”

“Like spontaneous mutations that provide defense against diseases,” Vision says.

“War Machine: Spontaneous Mutation,” Rhodey says. “Sounds like my next album.”

“The point is,” Steve says, “we need to look at this incident with Lang as less of a threat, and more of a learning experience. Lang found a vulnerable spot, yes, but let’s not leap to viewing his move as an antagonistic one.”

“So you’re not going to do anything about Lang himself?” Maria asks.

“We could recruit him,” Tony says. He shrugs at Maria and Rhodey’s noises of disagreement. “Best way to keep an eye on him.”

“I can meet him,” Natasha says. “Gauge the waters. Maybe not for full recruitment, but it’ll be good to see what’s out there.”

“Can I go?” Wanda says. “I like meeting new people.”

“Sure,” Steve says.

“That’s a good idea,” Vision says. “You can practice being non-threatening.”

Wanda suppresses her smile. “Thank you, Viz.”

“You should check up on Pym as well,” Tony says. “But don’t namedrop me. Or you could, and he and Wanda can bond over hating Starks.”

“Tony,” Steve says.

Tony makes a face. “It cannot possibly be too soon to make that joke.”

“It’s a good joke,” Wanda says.

“See,” Tony says.

Steve shakes his head, but moves on with: “Okay, here’s what I think. The Avengers are a line of defense, but we’re not a fortress, and we’re not military – even if some of us may be individually. Security is of course vital, and we’ll do a full review after this, but we need to be flexible whenever things like this happen. Let’s learn, adapt, improve. And let’s not blame ourselves or anyone specific for not predicting the future or whatever outlandish, improbable situation we’ll encounter next. A year ago, I wouldn’t have known how to react to a cosmic-gem-powered individual, or a telekinetic.”

“So a petty criminal would fit right in?” Sam says.

“Well, Fury did recruit me,” Tony points out. “Along with a hobo named Bruce who once broke Harlem. I mean, those are the standards we started out with, right?”

The rest of the discussion goes smoothly, and everyone gets to walk away with a list of things to do. Tony rises from his seat already thinking about which of Howard’s files he’s going to start raiding, because the old man has to have something about Pym lying around somewhere. Shrinking tech, Jesus Christ. Tony’s going to have to pencil that in when drawing up the next suit.

While Tony’s leaving the room, he glances back just in time to see Sam lean towards Steve and ask quietly, “So how’d you pull that off, man? Does FRIDAY help out filming you guys or…?”

Tony speeds up his steps, totally okay with leaving Steve to handle that one on his own.

 

 


 

 

 

5

Rhodey thinks it’s hilarious that Tony has an office in the Avengers compound.

“You never even used the office you had in Malibu,” Rhodey told him when he’d first seen the plans. “Except as extra room to hide your junk.”

“I’ll have you know I have matured into a human being that is in full need of an office,” Tony had replied. “Corporate photo ops are critical for Avengers PR.”

Seriously though, the office does serve an important function by being Tony’s personal space to focus and work, but keeping him accessible to the rest of the team or SHIELD staff. His bedroom is a holy temple only accessible by FRIDAY, Steve, and maybe Natasha and Rhodey if they have a good excuse, so the office is a necessary intermediary between the private and the public.

Besides, as far as Tony’s concerned the office has earned its keep by being the place where Fury found out about him and Steve. (Long story short: Fury barged in while Tony was sitting at the desk, and he got through an entire spiel about a situation in Norway before he’d twigged to the fact that Tony wasn’t alone. After Steve crawled out from under the desk, he’d stood at perfect attention through the rest of Fury’s pitch.)

Rhodey doesn’t know that story, but if he did, he’d say something about how Tony only had an office for nefarious kink-fulfilling purposes, which would be another damned dirty lie.

Sure, he and Steve do have sex in the office sometimes, but that’s an exception, not the rule. Tony definitely never actually plans it, either, which is more than he could say for Steve – which is another thing that Rhodey doesn’t need to know about.

It’s a Thursday, and Tony is perched on his desk and using his office for the its actual purpose, i.e. studying a projection of blueprints in the air. He’s been at it for a while, tinkering with the next gen Quinjets and upgrades to Natasha’s gauntlets, and feels on the edge of a solution when FRIDAY interrupts.

“Captain Rogers heading this way, boss,” FRIDAY says.

Tony sits up and thinks. “Do we have something on today? Did I forget?”

“Nothing in your schedule, at least. Though he is back early from the scouting mission.”

“Right, right.” Tony sets a portion of the designs out of the way, just as Steve knocks. He yells: “By appointment only!”

Steve pokes his head around the door and says pithily, “Yeah, hi.”

It’s immediately clear Steve’s not had a good day. Sure, Steve’s still capable of smiling and apologizing for the interruption, but there’s stiffness in the way he walks into the room and sits in the chair facing the desk. Tony watches Steve for a moment, noting the pinch around his eyes, the flex of his fingers.

“Not enough bad guys to beat up today?” Tony asks.

“Not everything I do is about beating up bad guys,” Steve says. “What are you working on?”

Tony starts talking, happy to provide a distraction. He opens up the top-level of the new designs, and shares the rationale behind them along with what Tony hopes to improve. Steve nods and chimes in, asking about gaps and offering suggestions, and some of it is even useful.

About halfway through another diatribe about the ways that their shielding can be better, Tony stops and closes the diagram. Steve trails off in surprise.

“What?” Steve asks.

“I’m trying to figure out a gentle and supportive way to ask if you wanna fuck it out, whatever it is.” When Steve flinches, Tony adds, “I’m totally game. Just saying.”

“Maybe I just like your company,” Steve says defensively.

“Oh, gee, Steve, you like my company? And here I thought you were just after me for my body.”

“Dammit, Tony.” Steve takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. Tony takes pity on the guy and leans forward, wrapping an arm around Steve’s shoulders and tugging. After a beat Steve goes with him, pressing his forehead against Tony’s collarbone and sighing.

Tony drops a kiss on the top of Steve’s head. “It’s fine.”

Steve presses his face against Tony’s chest. “You ever feel like sometimes the world’s just badly put together?”

“Of course.” Tony shrugs. “It’s okay to feel that way. I mean, you’re an angry guy.”

Steve tilts his head up, frowning. “Not all the time.”

“Sure, but point is, you channel that anger in a useful way. The Steve Rogers Express: the engine that runs on rage against the injustices of the world.”

“I don’t see what that has to do with this.”

“Really?” Tony laughs in disbelief. “You’re the strategy guy, right? You’re practically vibrating with unspent energy, and you came here instead of working it off downstairs? C’mon, Rogers. We can talk about it—”

“Maybe I don’t want to.”

“—or we can do something else. I mean, I’m a sure thing.”

Steve takes another deep breath, as though steeling himself. “I don’t want you think that I think you’re…”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Tony pushes Steve back and slides onto the floor, hands reaching for Steve’s belt. “FRIDAY, lock the door and hold my calls.”

Steve leans back in the chair and notably doesn’t protest.

The sex they’ve been having has been in the range of pretty good to really freaking spectacular. There’s been one or two outlier clunkers – when either or both of them weren’t that into it – but otherwise Tony has nothing to complain about. Steve’s open about trying different things and sharing constructive criticism, plus there’s the whole part where he’s really unashamed about how much he’s into Tony.

There’s evidence of that now, in the way Steve’s legs fall open under Tony’s hands, the way he runs shaky fingers through Tony’s hair when he gets his pants open.

For Tony’s part, he’s happy to take everything in its best and most flattering light.

Steve’s at half-mast already, but Tony decides to be a good guy and not call him out in it. His energy is better spent getting a firm grip on Steve’s dick and mouthing a long line underneath Steve’s shaft. Tony lets his facial hair just lightly brush his balls – Steve likes that – and then set his lips around the fat head.

Tony likes this. Sure, Tony likes lots of things to do with Steve, but he definitely likes the way Steve feels on his tongue, the way his jaw aches from the work, the Steve’s strong thighs frame his head. Tony gets lost sometimes in the headiness of sucking him off, and having total responsibility for Steve’s pleasure. One day he might even build up enough of Steve’s confidence to push past his super strength hang-ups, and thus finally facefuck Tony properly. One does need goals in life.

“Tony,” Steve says urgently. “Are – are you turned on?”

Tony rolls his eyes. Of course he’s turned on, he has Steve’s dick in his mouth, and he’s circling his hips in the air in a vague attempt to rub off against the inside his pants. Tony tightens his hold on the base of Steve’s cock and sucks harder, putting his back into swallowing him down.

Steve hisses and tugs at Tony’s hair sharply. Tony pulls off of him, saying, “Wha—” just as the Steve comes.

Tony’s still blinking in surprise when Steve slumps in the chair.

“That was fast.” Tony goes a little cross-eyed in trying to see if there’s come on his eyelashes. “I didn’t even get to—”

“Hang on.” Steve cups Tony’s face, pushing his thumb through the wetness and settling at the corner of Tony’s mouth.

Tony darts his tongue out to meet Steve’s thumb, but the motion is automatic, more an afterthought. Tony’s attention is actually on Steve’s face, which is back to its familiar calm and focus. The steadiness of Steve’s gaze has a frisson moving up Tony’s spine – satisfaction, mostly, as well as pleasure at having helped.

“Uh,” Steve says.

“What? Come on, Steve, just admit that you like seeing me on my knees like this.”

“Well, that’s…” Steve make a face. “That’s a little specific, isn’t it? And implying that I like it less when you’re not on your knees?”

Aaaand Steve’s back to being a smart-ass. “There’s also the part where you came on my face.”

“Yeah, sorry,” Steve says, not sounding sorry at all. “Let me help with that.” He gently pulls Tony onto his feet and guides him into sitting on the edge of the desk.

“Ugh.” Tony lets Steve drag his shirt over his head, and wrinkles his nose when Steve wipes his face clean with it. “I like this shirt.”

“I’ve been told you’re loaded, so you can probably spare a shirt.”

“Yeah?” Tony says mockingly. “And you have super strength, but I don’t see you using it for anything.”

Steve smiles broadly, which is really all the warning that Tony needs.

The shirt is tossed aside, and then Steve is kissing him. The hesitation and uncertainty are gone, leaving behind a Steve who is very assured of his welcome and glad to take it. Tony almost falls back under Steve’s rushing him, but of course Steve’s arms are already there, wrapping around him and holding him up as he’s kissed with fervor. Tony’s jaw already aches some from the blowjob, but he does not mind this new pressure from Steve’s mouth.

Steve’s still hard, because of course he is. Tony could be envious, but he’s too busy thinking about what Steve’s going to do with his dick. Because Steve definitely, absolutely has plans, and those plans are in motion now that he’s finally in full-throttle.

There is kissing, and pawing at each other, and Steve’s breaking the buttons of Tony’s pants because he’s a douche. Tony tries to retaliate for that last part by tearing Steve’s shirt, but he only gets as far as ripping a couple of inches past Steve’s collar before Steve’s giving him a look and flipping him around.

“Oh, okay then,” Tony says breathlessly, hands flat on the desk in front of him. He inhales sharply when Steve shucks Tony’s pants down to his calves, and then there’s a pointed nudge of Steve’s booted foot against the inside of Tony’s ankle – open your legs. Tony does. “This is good, too.”

Steve drags a palm down Tony’s spine slowly, reverentially, before settling it on the curve of his ass, a thumb just pressing between the cheeks. He says, so quietly that Tony almost misses it, “For me?”

“Only because you asked really nicely,” Tony replies.

There are supplies in a desk drawer, and Steve knows where to find them. Steve shows off his multi-tasking skills by kissing patterns across Tony’s shoulders while he fingers him open, the softness of his lips a counterpoint to the firm press into Tony’s hole. Tony hisses, whines, gasps, and then sighs with relief when Steve finally, finally mounts him.

“FRIDAY, up the sound buffer,” Tony gasps. When FRIDAY chirps an acknowledgement, something rattles loose in Tony’s chest and he moans, loud and unencumbered.

“Never get over this,” Steve whispers. “You’re so…”

“Yeah,” Tony says, arching up. God, Steve’s so huge, and Tony’s really fucking glad he hasn’t gotten used to it. He pushes back onto Steve, relishing the way his body gives it up and accepts the intrusion. It’s harder still to focus on the glorious pull and drag inside him when Steve’s touching him elsewhere – his hands moving over Tony’s chest, flicking his nipples, rubbing at his neck.

It’s a medium-speed fuck, not driven by urgency, but not lazy-slow either. Tony regains enough of a conscious mind to notice their reflection in the window. He can see Steve wrapped around him, Steve’s eyes hooded and concentrating hard on the side of Tony’s face. He can also see the thick column of Steve’s erection between his parted legs, moving up and into him.

Damn, Tony’s office sure has a lot of windows. This is only the third time they’ve had sex in here, and in the previous times they’d gone at it on or near the floor. When they’re upright like this, anyone flying by could see them. Tony ponders pointing that out, but then registers that Steve must already know. Steve and his impeccable situational awareness must be well-aware of what he’s doing, how they look, what the risks are.

“You fucking—” Tony moans, pleasure coiling tight in his groin. “Fuck you, Steve, you goddamn—”

Steve moves then, holding Tony’s torso firmly and pressing his thighs underneath Tony’s. It takes Tony’s a second to realize what’s happening, but by then he’s already pushed up on his tiptoes, his leverage gone.

“If you drop me, you’re fired,” Tony gasps. He takes his hands off the desk and clings onto Steve’s arms. “Fired, Steve.”

“Won’t,” Steve says.

He doesn’t. He fucks Tony with care and precision, his arms warm but solid bands around Tony’s body. Tony thinks that this should be more uncomfortable, and maybe it is? But he’s too busy being distracted by how good he’s being fucked to notice.

Steve doesn’t even need to thrust that much anymore. Gravity’s doing most of the work for him, so Steve need only roll his hips and grind against Tony’s ass, which is enough to have his dick pressing against all the best spots inside Tony. It’s working, too – Tony’s turned on beyond belief, moaning pretty much continuously, and has only enough cognitive thought left to wonder why it’s so stupidly fucking hot to be manhandled like this.

Tony comes like that, held open and sobbing. He rides it out for as long as he can, buoyed by Steve’s comforting murmuring in his ear.

It’s a productive day, definitely.

“Can you, um,” Steve says, once Tony’s breathing has calmed down. “Do you mind if I put you down on…”

“Mrgh,” Tony says, in what he hopes is an affirmative manner.

Tony’s understandably spaced out, so he only vaguely registers Steve slipping out from him and setting him down to lie on the floor. The carpet is warm against Tony’s back, which is nice. Tony makes grabby hands in the air until Steve settles back on top of him, one hand down between his legs to guide his erection back into Tony’s body.

Apparently, Steve wants to kiss through his orgasm. Tony’s certainly pliant enough now to make that happen, wrapping his legs around Steve and taking hold of Steve’s head to kiss him back. Steve’s mouth is hot and demanding, though as he thrusts grow erratic so do his kisses. Tony keeps kissing him anyway, up until Steve’s mouth goes slack entirely and Tony just kisses whatever’s within reach.

Steve growls when he comes. It’s a low sound, loosed through gritted teeth. Tony laughs when he hears it, and pets Steve through the aftershocks.

“Aww, look at you,” Tony says, combing his fingers through Steve’s sweat-damp hair. “Having a good time?”

Steve takes a handful of deep, gasping breaths before he answers. “Yeah, this is pretty good.”

“Well, that’s what I’m here for. Now get off me, I’m going to get rugburn.”

It’s a pity the office doesn’t have a bathroom en suite. Tony stands up, puts on his hips, and observes their scattered, ruined wardrobe. “I vote we let the sun shine in and just march on right out of here like we own the place. Which, technically, we kinda do.”

“You have spare clothes in that drawer,” Steve says.

“No, I…” Tony trails off, frowning. “Oh yeah. How do you even remember that?”

Steve shrugs, grinning. “That’s what I’m here for.”

 

 


 

 

 

4

The R&D section at the Avengers HQ may be state-of-the-art, but Tony keeps his personal fabricators at Stark Tower, opting to send his completed designs there for remote assembly whenever he’s not on-site. It’s nothing personal; he just doesn’t like people going through his stuff, and he’d rather that that Cho and gang have full rein of their place instead of locking down a corner of HQ for his personal use.

Hence, a lot of Tony’s actual magic happens at Stark Tower. Most of the other Avengers don’t have any reason to drop by the place now that they’ve moved upstate, to the point where it’s even an occasion when Steve comes by.

Steve does go into the city a lot, but if Tony’s also there, he usually goes down to see Steve instead of the other way around. In fact, Tony can count on his hands the number of times that Steve’s been to the tower since it’ post-Ultron makeover. This is fine, because the only times that Tony makes it a point for Steve to come over is when he has something he wants to show off. Like today.

“Okay,” Tony says, hands in his pockets and walking quickly past SI employees that barely give him a second glance. He doesn’t need to look to make sure Steve’s following him closely, shadowing him all the way past the reception and into the private elevator.

“You redid the floors,” Steve says. “I like the blue.”

“You would like the blue. But Pepper did it, not me.” Tony fiddles with his phone, while Steve watches the view of New York courtesy of the see-through glass of the elevator wall.

“Compliments to Pepper, then.” Steve pauses. “Are you mad at me?”

“What?” Tony starts. “No, why?”

“Because I can’t attend,” Steve says. “I am sorry about that.”

“Seriously? If I were mad at you, what on earth did you think I asked you to come here for?”

“To investigate the… spider situation in the city?”

Tony snorts. “You mean the potential new New York-based cast member for Natasha and Insect Dude’s spin-off?”

“Ant-Man,” Steve says. “Every time you mangle someone’s name, someone out there is calling you Tin Can Man.”

“Lang doesn’t need an excuse for that.” The elevator door chimes when they reach their floor, and Tony steps out, Steve following. “Anyway, no, it’s not about that, Natasha’s handling that one anyway. It’s about me wanting a captive audience for my genius, and you’re the only one who was available.”

“You’re such a flatterer,” Steve says.

The revamped workshop is set in where the old workshop used to be, but spread out further into the development space he used to share with Bruce. As before, and just like in Malibu, there are glass walls everywhere, because when Tony commits to an aesthetic, he commits. For now, though, Tony bypasses the suits vault for the tinkering floor, which lights up at their approach.

“Hey, Dummy,” Tony says, as the bot rolls up towards them. “Get Steve a drink, that’s a good boy.”

“Hi,” Steve says. “I like the new extension claws.” Dummy chirrups in approval and wanders off.

Tony throws his hands up like a maestro, bringing the projections to life. “Okay, so here’s the thing. I know we talked about the live demonstration needing to tie into the theme of the event – which I still disagree, themes are bullshit and made to be ignored – but then it hit me—”

“Tony.”

Tony skids to a halt. He realizes that Steve’s a few yards back and staring at a wall. “Yeah?”

Steve points. “This is… I drew this.”

“Yes?” Tony waits, but Steve’s still frozen and staring at said drawing. “Is it weird? I can take them down, if it’s weird.”

“They’re all my drawings.” Steve’s gaze moves down the wall, from one frame to the next.

Tony trots back to Steve’s side. “I’m sorry if it’s uncool. It’s just – you gave them to me, so I figured I’d do whatever with them.”

“No, of course, they’re yours to do as you like. But I didn’t think you’d put them up.”

Tony shrugs. He looks at the closest one, which is of the New York skyline. It wasn’t drawn from the view of Stark Tower, but Tony thinks it’s still cool. “I like looking at them while I’m working.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. They’re great for when I’m missing you, or whenever I need to make a decision. They remind me to think: ‘What would Steve do?’ And then I try my best not to do the opposite.”

Steve laughs. “Yes, that does sound like you.”

Tony should be annoyed at having his spiel derailed, but Steve’s face is strange. He’s flattered, but almost too flattered, as though he hadn’t thought that Tony would do something like this, or would want to.

“Hey, big guy.” Tony sets a hand on Steve’s arm, squeezing gently. “You know I’m really into you, right? Because if you’re only just now figuring that out, I’ve been majorly slacking off.”

“No,” Steve says quickly, “I know. I knew, I mean, yes, of course I know that. It’s just… this is really nice, that’s all.”

“Okay,” Tony says slowly.

“It’s fine. It’s sweet. Not that I’m suggesting that you’ve never done anything like this before, because you do—”

“That’s a relief.”

“—but it’s still…” Steve shrugs sheepishly. “Just knowing that you want to think of me like this, it’s… I guess you can still sweep me off my feet.”

Tony savors the moment by closing his eyes and steepling his fingers underneath his chin. “No, I can’t gloat. You can kiss me, though.”

Steve does, and only stops when Dummy knocks his shins with a beer bottle.

“Thank you,” Steve says, taking the beer. “You wanted to show me what you’d figured out?”

“Right. Right.” Tony heads back to the open floor, patting his shirt back into place as he goes. “Actually, it was partially inspired by you.”

“Me?”

“You’d gone on and on about sharing something honest and humanizing for the sake of the audience, seeing as people are going to be coming in with a preconceived notion of what I – Tony Stark – am all about.”

“Did I also suggest that you not use showgirls?”

“You did. It’s taken under advisement.” Tony grins, and Steve laughs. “So I thought… Back to basics. Why I started the project in the first place. Or one of the reasons I started, anyway.”

Steve nods. “The demo’s going to be about the panic attacks?”

“Oh, nah, that’s – I did think of that, but it’s too recent. An earlier one – a formative one, especially one that’s faded and pisses me off by being faded. To be specific, the last time I saw my parents.” Tony rubs at his goatee, surprised at his own self-consciousness. “How it happened, or how I wish it happened, maybe both? I mean, if you’re going to do a therapeutic holodeck, one of the first things you’d want to do is to explore the ‘what if’, right? How you wish it could have gone, if you had the chance.”

Tony chances a glance at Steve, who’s staring at the floor.

“You have to admit,” Tony continues, “it’d be a show of humanizing vulnerability and it appeals to my exhibitionist streak. Win-win.” He frowns when Steve doesn’t say anything. “You think it’s a bad idea. And here I thought morbidity was totally your jam.”

Steve chokes, a laugh startled out of him. “Geez, Tony.”

“Am I wrong? No, I’m not.” Tony winds across the floor, peering at Steve closely. “It’s for you, too, you know. I know there’s things you wish you—”

“That’s different.”

“Is it?”

“It is,” Steve says, a little sharply.

“Sorry, sorry,” Tony says, putting his hands up. “Work in progress.”

Steve shakes his head, as though clearing it. Tony thoughtfully waits it out, and turns away to tinker absent-mindedly with a propulsion design hovering in the air next to him.

At long last Steve says, “You don’t talk about your parents much. Or at all, actually.”

“Two things,” Tony says. “One – you’re right, I don’t, but don’t take it personally. Making a showcase out of it now is my way of ripping the band-aid off, if band-aids can be stuck on for… how long has it been? Two – of course I don’t, you fucking knew Howard, and I know it makes you all weird in the head when you’re trying to reconcile that with, well… us.”

“It doesn’t make me weird in the head,” Steve says, almost petulantly.

“Sure it does,” Tony says. “If you married Peggy and had a kid, I could be dating that kid. Or that kid’s kid, if you guys went at it early.”

Steve lists over slightly, a hand over his face. “I’d like to exit from this conversation.”

“There, there,” Tony says, patting his arm. “Now you need to be the supportive plus one for my first actual live demo. Don’t give me that look, I’m not going to use the actual memory on you. This is just a general test.” He moves down the benches towards the mock-up room on the other side of the workshop, which is not at all a euphemism for a sex nook (unlike what people have suggested). “I expect you to make a wide range of impressed noises.”

“Only if you fix the name,” Steve says, following him.

“I will. Obviously. BARF’s just a temp. Something better will come to me before the day, I’m sure of it.”

 

 


 

 

 

3

“Maybe we should leak the sex tape now,” Tony says. “Get the attention off Wanda.”

There’s a second where Tony can see Steve actually consider it, which says a lot about his state of mind. Then it passes and he’s back to making a face at the view, not that said view is any way responsible for the crappy day that they’re having.

“That might make it worse,” Steve says. “Headlines would be wittier, though.”

Tony had been hanging back while Steve brooded on the balcony, but now he steps forward, bumping Steve’s arm with his elbow as he passes. “I’m not trying to belittle what happened. It’s awful, it could’ve been avoided.” He pauses, studying Steve’s grim jaw-clench. “How’re you holding up?”

“You should be asking Wanda that,” Steve says.

“It was your mission, though. She’s your kid, following your lead.”

“Fuck off, Tony,” Steve says, though it’s not said with heat. He turns away, hiding his face from Tony’s scrutiny, though there’s still plenty to be gleaned from the tightness of his shoulders and the way he holds himself in readiness of (maybe) jumping off of the balcony.

Tony takes out his phone scrolls through his feeds, though it’s no less frenzied about the Lagos disaster than the last time he’d checked. He makes himself watch the footage again, from multiple angles, and with grainy close-ups of Wanda and Steve’s faces as they looked up at falling debris. It occurs to Tony – not for the first time – how much more prepared he is to deal with this than Steve is, despite Steve being the one who was in an actual World War.

“I’m not going to say it’s not on you,” Tony says. “But you’ve got to make it not about you. Not right now. We need to talk to people, find out how to… not make it ‘right’, exactly, because I don’t think anything will – but take the hit they’re gonna give us. With as open arms as much we can.”

“It’s got to be a hell of a hit,” Steve says.

“You bet.” Tony tentatively touches Steve’s back. Steve jerks away a little at first, but then settles, pressing back against the touch. Tony briefly wonders if it’s worth mentioning his own brush with a fan at the MIT event, but lets it pass.

Steve looks up, exhaling slowly. “I take the hit.”

“We, Steve. We take the hit.”

“You weren’t even there.”

“Yeah, ‘cause that makes such a difference.” Tony rolls his eyes when Steve scowls at him. “Don’t give me that. I’ve got the machine working, we’ll get through this.”

“I know,” Steve says. Then, with more confidence, “I know we will.”

“That’s the spirit.”

“I think you should talk to Wanda.”

“What, why?” Tony stares, appalled, while Steve’s face contorts a little in discomfort. “Because I know what it’s like to be responsible for something like that? It’s not the same thing, Steve, and I don’t think Wanda’d be happy about the comparison.”

“She’s beating herself up.”

“So are you.”

“And you’re okay with talking to me about it.”

“That’s – that’s not… Aren’t pep talks your specialty, Cap?”

“So I’m ‘Cap’ now?”

“Yes, this is definitely a ‘Cap’ situation.” Tony groans and shakes his head. “Fine. But you’re coming with me. Now. We do it now, before I change my mind. Where is she?”

 

 


 

 

 

2

It’s Natasha who finds Tony skulking around outside, trying to look like he belongs among the well-tended shrubbery. There’s no need to acknowledge each other – Natasha just takes point, facing the church and with her arms crossed, while Tony fiddles with his phone behind her.

“Not going in?” Natasha asks.

“Nah.” Tony bounces a little on the balls of his feet. He’s twitchy and doesn’t want to be, considering where they are, but it’s hard to keep still. It’s a really nice church, and it was a really nice service from what little he’d seen of, but he’d retreated outside as soon as he respectfully could, finding a nondescript corner to lurk in until Natasha’s spy senses apparently got all tingly. Tony didn’t even know that she’d come.

“Did you know her?” Natasha asks.

“Met her a few times when I was a kid, but… hell, I didn’t even know Howard worked with SHIELD until Fury told me, so back then she was just some really fancy lady who sometimes kinda-sorta kidnapped Jarvis – original flavor Jarvis – only to return him in one piece afterward. That was it.” Tony kicks at a loose stone, restless.

“Howard probably wanted to keep SHIELD away from you,” Natasha says. “Or the other way around. She would’ve honored that.”

“Yeah, I guess. Steve did ask me to go with him once, during one of his visits. She was, uh… already kinda gone by then. Did you know her?”

“Only by reputation.” Natasha’s smile is warm; Peggy Carter had a damned fine reputation. “She’d retired by time I was brought in, but her legacy was everywhere. I would’ve liked the chance to know her, but she deserved her rest.”

They stand silently for a while, watching as the crowd spills out from the building, dispersing in small groups of quiet conversations and damp eyes. Tony spots Sam among them, but no Steve.

“I’m glad to have paid my respects,” Natasha says. “I dropped by since it’s on the way.”

“To the UN signing?”

“Steve won’t go, and I doubt you will.”

“I’m signing,” Tony snaps. A beat later he hangs his head, apologetic, and Natasha nods with sympathy. “I’ve been expecting something like this, all right? Maybe not the Accords specifically, but something, some way to get a handle on us. They came after my suit before, I know how it goes, and I can’t exactly macho out of it when there’s a whole team attached.”

“But without Steve—”

“I’ll cover for him, okay. He doesn’t have to sign right now.”

Natasha raises an eyebrow. “You’ll cover for him? The Accords don’t have automatic spouse approval.”

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that,” Tony says. “Look, we don’t all have to sign right now. It’s enough if most of us do – that’ll give us enough of a head start, to play off on following the terms while we figure out our wriggle room.”

“Clint says he’s retired and Scott says he’s not an Avenger so… it’s a bit of a deadlock already.”

“Keeping working on them,” Tony says. “Just one more and it should be enough. I’ll deal with Steve.”

“All right.” Natasha hugs him and kisses his cheek before taking her leave. Tony tells himself that she’s definitely the one best suited to represent them at the signing – calm, level-headed, photogenic. Tony has his own part, anyway.

The crowd has shrunken down to a trickle, but Steve is still nowhere in sight. Tony girds himself and starts walking, past mourners and up the stairs in the church proper.

Sure enough, there’s Steve standing alone in the aisle, back straight and facing the casket.

Tony hesitates. It occurs to him, well after the fact, that he maybe should have tried harder to stay for the whole service. But sitting here had had a double-edge feeling of an intrusion: he hadn’t known Peggy enough to mourn her the way everyone else did, and his mere presence felt an encroachment of the memory Steve carried of her. It was different for Tony to hold Steve after he’d received the phone call, and it felt far better for Sam to be the one to sit with him through the memorial.

There’s also Tony’s historically bad experience with funerals to consider. In fact, he still feels twitchy, and his stomach tight.

Tony approaches slowly. When Steve notices him, he says quickly, “Hey, I’m sorry I—”

“It’s fine,” Steve says quietly, voice still a little thick. “I’m still glad you came.” He holds a palm out, and Tony steps close enough to slip his hand into Steve’s and squeeze gently.

“Natasha dropped by,” Tony says. “Thought you might want to know. She looked up to the legendary Peggy Carter, not that I’m surprised.”

“Oh,” Steve says, straightening. “The signing is later, isn’t it? I’d forgotten—”

“Hey, no.” Tony presses a hand on Steve’s chest, stopping him. “Don’t think about that now. You’re here for her. Those other things – they’re small, tiny, infinitesimal. We’ll get to them when we get to them.”

Steve’s smile is a little uncertain, but there’s enough of an edge to make it familiar. “I’m opting to believe that for now, but only because you can sometimes be convincing.”

“Thanks.” Tony watches Steve’s profile as he turns back to look at the casket. Tony knows he shouldn’t; he suspects he’s going to be haunted by that expression for a long, long time. Tony looks anyway.

Of course the universe would have such crappy timing as to drop this right on Steve in the middle of the Accords, in the middle of the aftermath of Lagos. At the same time, this is Steve, and he’s going to hit the ground running soon enough, once he’s had his moment to breathe.

Tony needs to get prepped, and get some game plans lined up for when Steve’s ready.

 

 


 

 

 

1

It all goes to hell, as it sometimes does.

The Accords signing goes sideways, courtesy of an assassination bomb at the UN that kills King T’Chaka of Wakanda, the strongest proponent of the Accords. It gets even worse when the perpetrator of the assassination is revealed to be Bucky Barnes, because said revelation is duly rejected by Steve, who sets off a chain reaction that culminates in Steve, Sam, Bucky, and T’Chaka’s son T’Challa’s arrest (it’s been a long day).

These things do have a tendency to happen all at once. Tony had hoped to ride it out, to stand as a bulwark against Ross and the Accords while Steve did his usual “hold my beer” and throw himself headfirst into stupidity, but hands are forced, and at the end of another really long day Tony finds himself having an argument with Steve in what appears to be an abandoned workshop.

“You didn’t have to,” Steve is saying. He’s not yelling, but he doesn’t have to, because every part of his body is standing at aggressive attention, and it’s all Tony can do not jump back into his suit so to get that additional two inches he’d have on Steve otherwise.

“Of course I fucking had to,” Tony snaps. “He was after you.”

“It wasn’t Bucky attacking me,” Steve says. “The doctor did something, he turned a switch—”

“Yes, okay, fine, but the action? The actual doing with the fists and the kicking? Was going – to – kill you.”

“I was handling it.”

“Oh, you were handling it? Like you handled it last time on the helicarrier, when you actually let him pummel you close to death, and you actually almost drowned? That time? Is that what we’re talking about?”

Steve bites back his next response, opting to instead tilt his head back and take a calming breath. Tony would mirror him, except he’s kinda enjoying the knot of adrenaline-tension keeping him upright and focused.

Some feet away, Sam is trying his best to look like he’s only watching over the currently comatose Barnes, and not like he’s listening in.

“You were supposed to be handling Ross,” Steve says.

“Yeah, sure, but then a super soldier went berserk on your ass, and I thought that was more at-the-moment critical.”

“Why’d you even bring the suit, Tony? You’ve signed, they’re going to come down on you—”

Tony crowds in, jabbing at Steve’s chest with a finger. “How about you don’t tell me what the fuck I should do—”

“—and now Natasha has to hold the fort—”

“—because you weren’t going to stop him—”

“—I wasn’t going to let it get that far—”

“—so I had to, because that’s what you fucking for the people you love.” Tony throws his hands up. “So fuck you, Rogers.”

It takes Tony a second to register why Steve’s gone quiet, his expression stunned. Tony feels his stomach tighten self-consciously, and then pointedly shoves the feeling aside.

“Tony,” Steve says quietly.

“If you’re about to say something about us, can it,” Tony says. “We need to decide what to do with Richard Kimble.”

That draws Steve’s attention back to his friend. Tony can see him adjusting, gears in his head shifting tracks. Tony feels a flash of relief, followed by annoyance at that relief. Tony’s going to have to deal with both Rosses, and explain his interference with the suit, and scrub all evidence that he’d helped Steve and Sam whisk Barnes away from the scene. Hell, he’s going to find a way to contact Natasha and convince her he’s not compromised.

Then there’s Steve, who’s not going to want to think about the Accords after having his dear ‘ol chum dropped right into his lap after how freaking long of trying to find him. It’s funny, because Tony had conjured a thousand and one possible scenarios for when he finally got to meet the infamous Bucky Barnes, and he actually had considered a brutal fistfight with the Winter Soldier among those scenarios.

Tony won’t say this out loud, of course. It hadn’t been fun to hit Steve’s buddy with the repulsors while Steve watched in horror.

“I’m not letting them take him in again,” Steve says.

“Of course not,” Tony says flatly.

“Tony—”

“I just really hate the timing, you know? Any other week, any other month, I would’ve been ready, I would’ve been more than capable of handling this. But with the Accords, I can’t get to the compound, or to Stark Tower—”

“Tony, stop,” Steve says gently.

Tony glares. “If you say that I don’t have to be a part of this because he’s your friend, I’m really going to hit you.”

Steve concedes with a small smile. “Hey Sam, how’s it going?”

“Boring,” Sam calls out. “Makes for a nice change, actually.”

Steve nods. “Hopefully he’ll be lucid when he wakes up. We need to know what that man wanted. Tony does have a point about the timing, though.”

“What,” Tony says, “you didn’t notice how you’ve had a really crappy week?”

“No, I mean…” Steve frowns. “Who would’ve known how to program the Winter Soldier?”

“Hydra,” Sam says. “Probably?”

“Probably,” Tony echoes. “I’ve been told he was their favorite.”

“But what for?” Steve says. “They went through a lot of trouble to get him.”

“I don’t know,” Tony says with a shrug, “fucking up the UN does seem something Hydra would be into.”

Steve looks at Tony sharply. “Bucky said that wasn’t him, and I believe him. Which means, the bombing was to flush him out, but to what end? The man who interrogated him, the doctor—”

“Probably not a doctor either,” Tony says.

“—he didn’t seem concerned about keeping Bucky. He was in and out, no fuss, didn’t even need to throw a punch. You lost him quickly, right?” When Sam nods, Steve adds, “A clean op. It can’t have been to just sic Bucky on us – or on me, if that’s what it was – because that would be… wasteful.”

He’d probably know something,” Sam says, jerking a head to where Bucky’s still doing a decent impression of a passed-out drunk.

“But the timing,” Steve says, looking at Tony. “I’m thinking about the timing, specifically. Going after Bucky now, when we’ve our hands tied because of the Accords?”

Tony groans. “If you’re saying that Hydra had a hand in the Accords…”

“I didn’t say it,” Steve says, “you did.”

It would be nice to have Hydra to blame at least some of this craptastic situation on. Steve can go ahead pin his hopes on that all he wants, but Tony will pass for now, pending further information. Sometimes the world really does just decide to vomit up one thing after another, and all they can do is ride it out and try not to get a mess everywhere.

Tony needs to contact Natasha and Rhodey. Hell, he needs to get hold of Vision and Wanda, to see if they’ve found out anything about Ross they can use to push back.

“Tony,” Steve says, startling Tony out of his thoughts.

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry I can’t deal with the Accords right now, but I’m going to be chasing this thing with Bucky all the way to the source.”

Tony shrugs. “Sure.”

“So there’s something you need to know about him, before this goes any further.” Steve visibly steels himself. “I never said anything before because I wasn’t sure – actually I’m still not sure – but it’s…”

Tony sighs. “What now?”

 

 


 

 

 

0

It’s been a couple of months since Tony last visited the site of the Malibu former-house. It’s as Tony remembers it, the slab of cement on top of the retaining wall still there and still naked, and still perfect for sitting.

So Tony’s sitting in the middle of said slab, legs crossed and palms up on his knees. He’s not actively meditating, but his mind is floating anyway. If someone knocked his skull, Tony wouldn’t be surprised if they found it hollow. He has no idea how long he’s been here, though he’s pretty sure it wasn’t sunset when he first arrived.

The Iron Man suit is on sentry nearby, and chimes a warning at an approach.

It’s Pepper, the clack of her heels clear on the cement. She stands for a long moment behind Tony, enough that he almost forgets that she’s there. “Tony,” she says.

“Hey, fancy seeing you here,” Tony says. “You know, I thought this place was private property? I found footprints, and unless you’re wearing a size nine men’s, I’m going to be a little concerned.”

“Surveyors.” Pepper steps forward, though she doesn’t sit down. Tony has no idea if she even can sit on the ground in that pencil skirt. “You were sighted in the area.”

“Still have me on your news alerts?”

“What’s happening out there, Tony?”

“I have no idea. Really. I have no idea. How long have I been here? They could’ve bombed another city for all I know.”

Tony.”

The thing is, even after all this time working together and mostly-living together, Tony can see that all the other Avengers would do just fine without the team. Sure, they’d be sad and miss it, and some of them would hang on to specific friendships in smaller cliques, but they’d move on and find other ways to use their abilities to help the world. They don’t have to be Avengers to be helpful.

“It’s over.” Tony tilts his head back. The sky is beautiful, and the first stars are out. Whatever’s out there in the universe could come right on in, now that their gates are wide open. “We’re fucked.”

“Me and you, or the Avengers, or Earth?”

“But I’m only thinking about that because I don’t want to think about Steve. He knew the whole time when we were together. He knew that my parents’ death wasn’t an accident.” Tucked inside the betrayal of having the memory Tony’d had to live with be gutted inside out, was actually understanding why Steve did it, and hating him for it anyway. “Hydra took ‘em out, via the Winter Soldier. I did tell you about him, right?”

“Oh my god.”

Tony starts when Pepper’s arms come around him – apparently she can sit down in that skirt – to hold him tight. For a second Tony stiffens, because this isn’t why he’d told her, dammit, but it’s a good hug, and apparently he really needed it. He gives in.

After what feels like an eternity, Tony says, “So I ran. Well, flew. I couldn’t – how do you even – so I just got out of dodge like a fucking… I couldn’t think, Pep.”

“Of course,” Pepper says. “You reacted. Is that why you came here?”

“Yeah.” Tony’s throat thickens with a laugh that can’t quite get out. “I just left them. All of them. Who the hell knows what Ross is doing to any of them now. Why do I have to fix it, Pepper?”

“You don’t,” Pepper says firmly, kindly.

Tony grits his teeth. “I know.”

It should be on Steve. He’s the team leader, everyone believes in him yadda yadda et cetera, except he bailed at the first sign of the Accords because principles, and the worst part is that Tony isn’t that surprised by any of it. In fact, Tony should’ve tried harder because he knew, instead of coddling the damn guy because of his stupid feelings (Rhodey warned him about that, but of course he didn’t listen). If they’d all gotten on the Accords they could’ve gone after Barnes openly, and chased down whoever was pulling his strings using full team resources.

Maybe. Possibly. Even with Tony’s heart pounding a mile a minute on what-if’s, he’s not actually sure about that last part.

“Uh, Tony,” Pepper says. “The suit’s eyes are flashing, should I be worried?”

“That’s FRIDAY trying to signal me. I put everything on mute, so she’s probably a wee bit pissed…” Tony rummages through his pockets, searching for his ear piece. As he does, he frowns back at Pepper. “Why are you here?”

“Secretary Ross was looking for you,” Pepper says. “Obviously I had nothing to tell him, but I did note his… concern.”

Tony laughs, and is a little surprised that he can laugh, so soon.

He shoves the earpiece in, and FRIDAY says rather tetchily, “Priority upload from Berlin police. You’ll definitely want to see this one.” Tony pulls out his phone while FRIDAY pops up the feeds.

On the one hand, it’s true, Tony did want to see this. (Score one for Barnes actually being innocent in this case.) On the other hand, now Tony has to think what to do with it. He sighs, rubs his temple, and tries not to think about throwing himself off the cliff for lack of options. “Forward it to… Rhodey, Steve – hell, send it to the whole team. Whoever’s still connected.”

“That would be only Colonel Rhodes and Natasha Romanoff.”

Tony jolts in surprise. “Not even Vision and Wanda?”

“They’ve been off the grid for a few hours now. Recent footage from the compound suggests that they ran away together.”

Tony sighs. “Of course they did. Oh hey, send that bulletin to T’Challa as well. Or one of his… handlers? Just get it to someone in his camp.”

“Will do.”

“And…” Tony pauses, heart hammering. “Any messages from Steve? Before he went dark?”

“No, boss.”

That probably means Steve thinks he can handle whatever he’s heading into. It may not be true, but he’s also with Sam, who surely has enough brains for the both of them no matter what’s going on with Barnes. The urge to find and fly to Steve is strong; it’s so strong that it makes Tony a little queasy since it’s warring with the perpetual what the fuck of Steve hiding what he knew about Maria and Howard.

At least he told Steve how he feels, before all that went down. (Sort of.) No matter what happens next, at least Tony doesn’t need to deal with that one regret.

“I guess I should turn myself in,” Tony says.

“That’s a twist,” Pepper says flatly.

Tony shrugs. His hands aren’t shaking anymore either, so that’s a plus. “Gotta start that spin machine some time. But first, I’m going to get a hamburger.”

“Ah.”

“What? Tank’s feeling a little low. Know any good places nearby?”

 

 


 

 

 

+1

In some ways, it feels like being back at square one.

Rhodey’s stinging a little, but he’ll lie low (or what counts for lying low) back in the Air Force, and will be none worse for the wear in no time. Natasha’s stinging a little more, but she’s taking that as a challenge to dig her heels in deep at Avengers HQ, where she’ll keep the home fires burning for as long as is necessary.

And then there’s Tony, who gets to keep on dancing a fine line between compliant and insouciant. It probably helps he wasn’t at the airport shoot-out with Rhodey, Natasha, T’Challa and their special ops attachment, all of whom still hadn’t been able to stop the wayward three stooges from making off with a Quinjet for hell knows where.

The result of which was that Tony could, with an unusually crystal clear conscience, tell Secretary Ross that he had no hand whatsoever in making that happen, and has no freaking clue where Steve and his bestest buddies in the world have disappeared to.

It’s only because of that that Tony’s allowed to do this at all, i.e. extending a request to meet T’Challa, which was just as miraculously accepted. Tony would have preferred the meeting to take place somewhere neutral, and with a suit nearby, but he’d known how precious it was to get a yes from the new king of Wakanda at all.

“I’m surprised you’re not asking for a tour,” T’Challa says. He says this with a familiar, prideful gleam in his eye, which Tony kinda respects. “Would you not like to know how the hover tech works?”

“Better if I didn’t,” Tony says. “You might end up seeing that tech in one of my suits, and even I don’t have time to deal with your lawyers.”

T’Challa laughs. He moves past Tony to the windows, though there’s nothing to see other than mist and fog. Or maybe there is something to see but Tony’s pedestrian eyes don’t appreciate it. Tony goes anyway, shadowing T’Challa all the way up the tempered glass, and doesn’t say anything while the other man gazes pensively out the window.

Tony has literally no idea where he is. This was a condition for the meeting, which T’Challa had asked for and Tony – despite his reservations – had accepted. Tony’s best guess is that this not-helicarrier is hovering somewhere near the borders of Wakanda, in the highlands that would explain the fog. Or it could very well be artificial fog, because who the hell knows what Wakanda can do these days.

It’s Tony’s suspicion that everything he’s seen thus far in the not-helicarrier has been specifically chosen for its audience, for the rooms he’s seen are minimalist and beautiful and reveal absolutely nothing about the kingdom that they came from. Right now they’re in an open-space area replete with thick couches and a fancy bar that was probably meant for entertaining guests, and which would probably not go amiss in Stark Tower should Tony decide to be inspired by its design.

“I thank you for sending the intel on Zemo,” T’Challa says. “If you hadn’t, I may have made a terrible mistake.”

“Is that what happened?” Tony asks. “No one will tell me anything.”

“How much do you know?”

“I know about the airport.”

“And after? You don’t know of Siberia?” Tony shakes his head, and T’Challa continues, “Rogers and his allies slipped away, thanks to the crossfire misunderstanding between Romanoff and the ops forces. But I followed, as I would follow any such blood justice to the ends of the world. I didn’t even see the message you’d sent, but my sister did. She came for me. Stopped me.”

Tony swallows, his throat dry. “So the three of them are…”

“They’re well, last I saw,” T’Challa says. “Whatever it is they’d chased to Siberia was not there when they arrived. I assume they are still chasing.”

Tony tries not to feel disappointed. “Sounds right.”

“So why are you here, Mr. Stark? Or are you simply seeking news of your friends?”

“No, not just that.” Tony straightens up and puts on a smile. “I’d like to offer you our services. The Avengers, I mean. I’d guessed that the man who killed your father is still out there, and I was right. We can help you find him.”

“Putting aside the fact that I doubt the Black Panther needs your help, there are only three of you left.”

“There’ll be others. We’re popping up like weeds nowadays, haven’t you noticed?”

“I have,” T’Challa says wryly. “Though you are not offering, you are asking. You would like to have the same mission as your runaway friends, in the hopes of finding them, wouldn’t you?”

“That’d be dangerous. For them.”

“Then what are you really after?” T’Challa tilts his head, considering. “Is this of the Accords?”

“Your father was the biggest force behind the Accords. And with his passing, you have the biggest sway. I need…” Tony pauses, rewording. “I would very much appreciate a chance to redo the Accords. Not from scratch – I love the idea of it, I really do – but to study it, to give us a chance to have a say in how it works. It’s flawed, you know that.”

“Do I?”

“Isn’t Wakanda all about fiercely-guarded independence?”

“Do not compare a group of powerful, unpredictable individuals to a sovereign nation that wishes only to protect itself.”

“And I’m sure the Black Panther has never ever acted outside of Wakanda.” Tony keeps his smile bright even when T’Challa’s eyes narrow. “And has never ever done anything that ignores, oh I don’t know, international laws.”

“There is an ejection button on my person,” T’Challa says. “If I touch it, you will fall through a panel in the floor into places unknown.”

“Bring it on.”

“I like how you don’t even blink when you say that.” T’Challa turns away and heads for the bar, where he makes a drink for himself. Tony follows, trying not look too eager. “So you wish to work for us?”

“To work together,” Tony says. “I believe you’re the best chance we have of salvaging the Avengers. A mission to find Zemo would be a first step, a door-opener. Even Secretary Ross can’t turn that down if it’s coming from you.”

“I will think on this.” T’Challa takes his drink and starts to leave, though he holds a hand up when Tony starts to follow. “You will wait here while I confer with others. Help yourself, of course. We will return you to the port on time as promised.”

“Right. Thanks, Your, uh… Your Highness?”

Tony waits until T’Challa’s disappeared behind one of the fancy sliding doors before taking out his phone. It’s still blocked, and although Tony could probably get some workarounds running before T’Challa gets back, it wouldn’t really help his case. He sighs and turns his attention to the refreshments spread, which at least looks decent. Wakandan hospitality, and all that.

He’s picking through the plates when there’s the faint whoosh of the door reopening. Tony looks up, about to ask if T’Challa forgot something, but drops the plate with a clatter.

“Hi, Tony,” Steve says.

Tony blinks, quells the sudden twist in his stomach, and turns back to the little sandwiches. “I did think there was too much here for one person.”

There’s a beat where Steve doesn’t move or say anything. He just stands there while Tony shoves a sandwich and then a biscuit into his mouth, and chases it down with some impressive coffee. Tony wonders how badly conflicted Steve must be to still be frozen there, fighting back his usual propensity for barreling forward no matter the risk.

Then, finally Steve approaches. Slowly, carefully. When he speaks, his voice is so gentle that Tony’s head almost hurts. “I’m sorry how things played out.”

“Not an apology,” Tony says.

Steve nods. “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

“Doesn’t make a difference.”

“Tony.”

“Steve.” Tony glances up. Of course where Tony’s having trouble looking at him, Steve has no such problem. He looks at Tony like he’s been starving for the sight of him and doesn’t care who knows it. “How’s Wilson and Barnes?”

“They’re fine,” Steve says. “Bucky’s in cryo. He doesn’t think it’s safe to be out while Zemo’s still at large.”

“That’s a bummer. T’Challa doing anything about it? Or you could get some brain scans, send them over. I might be able to figure out something.”

“That’d put you at risk.”

“You just standing here puts me at risk,” Tony says. “I’m going to have to lie now, if anyone asks if I know where you are.”

Steve ducks his head, but blessedly doesn’t try to apologize for that, too. “How are the others?”

“Oh, now you’re worried about the team?” Tony can see Steve start to say something, but quickly shushes him with an irritated wave. “You know what? I’m not even surprised by any of it. You’ve always had tunnel vision, you’ve always been unable to let anything go as soon as you got your teeth in it. I was just okay with that when you were focused on me. So, you know, my bad! I had tunnel vision when it came to you, too. Couldn’t think fucking straight.”

“That’s not inherently a bad thing, Tony.”

Tony wishes that Steve had his hackles up. He hates dealing with Steve when he’s like this, all droopy and sweet and not at all interested in a fight.

“Natasha and Rhodey are fine,” Tony says. “Wanda and Vision made a break for it. They were snooping around on Ross, and I think they found something that made them bail. Lang might have helped them, but I can’t be sure.”

“That’s a surprise,” Steve says. “Vision isn’t really…”

“The incognito type? Yeah. I expect they’ll show up sooner or later.” Tony laughs. “They’re the most powerful of us and they thought the best thing to do was to high-tail it out of there. Says a lot, doesn’t it? You going to say I-told-you-so?”

“You think I’d do that?”

“Hard to be sure these days.”

Steve sighs. “Regardless of what Ross is up to, T’Challa would’ve killed Bucky if you hadn’t sent that message. He almost did, in Siberia.”

“Ah. And now he’s letting all of you crash with him as an apology? Nice, nice. Pretty cozy, though I’m sure this place is just a tiny, unrecognizable sample of what Wakanda has to offer.”

“Tony,” Steve says. “I need to explain why I didn’t tell you about your parents.”

They were doing so well, too. Tony’s first inclination is to deflect, but then it occurs to him that this could be interesting. He turns, squares his shoulders, and looks Steve right in the eye. “Okay. Shoot.”

That seems to take Steve by surprise. He starts, fumbles a little, and then mirrors Tony by straightening up. “I wasn’t told this information directly, and had no hard evidence for it.” He talks about Armin Zola and the old Hydra database, most of which Tony knew about. “At the time, and for a while afterward, we weren’t really… close.”

“Can’t fault you there,” Tony agrees.

“It didn’t occur to me to mention it to you, and I figured if anyone had the right to, it’d be Natasha, since she knew you better. By the time I realized that you didn’t know, we’d been together for... a while, and it was… how do you bring that up? The window had passed to tell you. And I guess I convinced myself that it would’ve hurt you more to be aware that Hydra was responsible, instead of it being an accident.”

“Hurt me more, or hurt you more?” Tony asks.

Steve nods, chastened. “Both. You’re right.”

“Is that it?”

“What?”

“Is that the extent of your reasoning?” Tony says through gritted teeth. “Because I need to know if you’re done before I go at it.”

“That’s it.” Steve smiles weakly. “Thank you for listening.”

The worst part is how much Steve means that. He’s content to have gotten that out in the open, and will probably take whatever Tony lobs at him next. Tony swears under his breath. “Is there anything else absolutely critical that you’ve somehow conveniently forgotten to tell me?”

A pause. “That I love you, too.”

“Great!” Tony exclaims, throwing his hands in the air. “Wonderful! Peachy keen! This is something I totally needed to hear while I’m trying to negotiate a survival strategy with the king of Wakanda! Do you know how difficult it was to get here? It was—” Tony pauses, narrowing his eyes at Steve’s suddenly shifty expression. “What? What?”

“T’Challa told me about your request for a meeting,” Steve says.

Tony feels his face contort into a snarl. “And you asked him to accept?”

“I… He was probably going to accept it anyway?”

“Oh my god.” Tony presses his hands to his face. “So now I won’t actually have anything to show for it when I get back.”

“That’s not true, T’Challa wouldn’t waste his time humoring either of us—”

“And now you’re going to say something like you had to see me, because you missed me.”

Steve tilts his chin up, challenging. “I had to see you, because I missed you.”

“Super.” Tony sways forward, hating himself for being so predictably weak, and lets himself fall right smack against Steve’s chest. He presses his face against Steve’s shoulder, breathes in deep, and absolutely does not feel a surge of triumph at the noise Steve makes.

Steve brings his arms up, hesitating for a moment in checking Tony’s response, and then wraps them solidly around him. His hand is shaking where it settles on the back of Tony’s neck.

This doesn’t mean that Tony isn’t still angry. Steve’s smart enough to know this, and to not suggest otherwise.

“Dammit,” Tony says.

Steve tightens his grip, holding Tony with a fierceness that Tony recognizes in himself. Nearly everything maybe be in shambles, but at least Steve’s still generous with his damn fucking awesome hugs. Steve presses his face against the side of Tony’s head and sighs.

“My life is full of… transience,” Steve says quietly. “Everything could and did change on a dime, from when I was a kid. Stability, permanence – I don’t think I understand what that really means. Growing up, the war and everything in it, then waking up having lost everything, and then… it seemed to keep on going. The Avengers seemed to be just a thing for the weekend, and you know what happened to SHIELD. I’m not excusing it, but I think that’s why it was… why I wasn’t that surprised when everything fell apart again.”

“Nothing sticks, huh,” Tony says, voice muffled against Steve’s shirt. “Not even us?”

Surely Steve can recognize the dare for what it is. Tell the truth, Rogers. You need to, now.

“I wanted it to,” Steve says. “I hoped it would. I’d fight for you, God knows I would, but… I just thought that it’d be better for both of us if I just took it a day at a time.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Tony says. “Ditto for me, actually.”

“What do you mean?”

“I figured you might get bored of me.” Tony can’t quite shrug with Steve holding him so tightly, but he tries. “Or the other way ‘round. Didn’t happen, though.”

“No, it didn’t.”

“It was an awesome honeymoon period, too.”

“Yes, it was.”

“Well.” Tony pulls back a little, so to look Steve right in the eye. “Now we get to find out what happens next. You cool with that, Steve?”

It’s then that Tony realizes that Steve had no idea what to expect when he’d come to see him. Steve had probably focused on having a few minutes with him, and regarded the outcome as secondary to that. The white-hot pit of anger is still roiling in Tony’s stomach, and he will be venting it as often as is necessary in the near future, but he’s also capable of putting his hands on either side of Steve’s face and saying:

“You’re going to help me fix this. You got that?”

Steve’s smile is a little shaky, but he nods. “Yes.”

“Good.” Then Tony leans up and kisses him.